Silence, I have found, is intimate; in day-to-day life, silence presents me a unique opportunity: the chance to be personally intimate with myself. Silence offers a space for personal reflection, for deeper understandings, and for the advancement of the imagination. While reading the excerpt from Jorge Luis Borges’s essay “On the Cult of Books,” I found the same to be true: silence, and reading in silence, allowed me to perceive the text better, to understand the words being said in a much deeper sense. And on a less scholarly front, I was able to read and understand without consideration for pronunciation; if I skipped over a word or a name I couldn’t immediately pronounce, the action didn’t impede my understanding or slow my progress.
This tendency to read in silence as a means to foster deeper understanding has been documented throughout history; in an excerpt from the historian Roger Chartier’s book A History of Private Life, Volume III: Passions of the Renaissance, this sentiment is communicated, as silent reading is described as offering “immediate internalization of what the reader read” (Chartier).
In reading aloud, however, I found myself focusing more on the pronunciations of the words I was reading than the content itself. Words and names that I did not immediately know how to pronounce halted my progress, and I found that I was reading faster internally than I could keep up with while speaking. And, quite frankly, reading aloud makes my throat feel sore. St. Ambrose, in St. Augustine’s descriptions as quoted by Borges in his essay, seems to mirror my own qualms with reading aloud. As St. Augustine describes, St. Ambrose “would get through fewer books than he wished” if he committed to reading aloud rather than silently, and the process of reading silently could allow him to “preserve his voice” in ways that reading aloud does not permit (Borges 360). Chartier expresses a similar sentiment, claiming that “Reading aloud was slow, laborious, and externalized; silent reading was faster, easier, and more immediate in its impact on the inner self,” a statement that I would expect St. Ambrose to agree with (Chartier).
Though I still prefer silence, I cannot deny that reading aloud did encourage me to consider the inflection of the words I was reading and the impact that inflection has on the content of the text more than I would while reading silently. Reading aloud and adding appropriate inflection, then, does lend a sense of power to the words that isn’t present while reading silently, and there are some works—very many, actually—that deserve to have such power rooted in their words, from a child’s bedtime story to a preacher’s Gospel.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” Selected Non-Fictions. Translated by Eliot Weinberger, Penguin, 2000, 358-363.
Chartier, Roger. “The Practical Impact of Writing.” A History of Private Life, Volume III: Passions of the Renaissance. Harvard University Press, 1993, https://users.manchester.edu/FacStaff/SSNaragon/Kant/lp/readings/chartier.html. Accessed 7 Sept. 2021.